Skip to main content

The Influence of Board Diversity, Board Diversity Policies and Practices, and Board Inclusion Behaviors on Nonprofit Governance Practices


This study examines how and when nonprofit board performance is impacted by board diversity. Specifically, we investigate board diversity policies and practices as well as board inclusion behaviors as mediating mechanisms for the influence of age, gender, and racial/ethnic diversity of the board on effective board governance practices. The empirical analysis, using a sample of 1,456 nonprofit board chief executive officers, finds that board governance practices are directly influenced by the gender and racial diversity of the board and that board inclusion behaviors together with diversity policies and practices mediate the influence of the board’s gender and racial diversity on internal and external governance practices. Additionally, we found an interaction effect that indicates when boards have greater gender diversity, the negative impact of racial diversity on governance practices is mitigated. The findings suggest that board governance can be improved with more diverse membership, but only if the board behaves inclusively and there are policies and practices in place to allow the diverse members to have an impact.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  • Alliance for Board Diversity. (2013). Missing Pieces: Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards. Retrieved from

  • Anand, R., & Winters, M. F. (2008). A retrospective view of corporate diversity training from 1964 to the present. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 7(3), 356–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernstein, R. S., & Bilimoria, D. (2013). Diversity perspectives and minority nonprofit board member inclusion. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 32(7), 636–653.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernstein, R. S. & Davidson, D. (2012). Exploring the link between diversity, inclusive practices, and board performance: An analysis of the national BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index. In Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, Washington, DC.

  • Bilimoria, D. (2000). Building the business case for Women Corporate Directors. In R. J. Burke & M. C. Mattis (Eds.), Women on Corporate Boards of Directors: International challenges and opportunities (pp. 25–40). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Bilimoria, Diana. (2006). The relationship between Women Corporate Directors and Women Corporate Officers. Journal of Managerial Issues, 18(1), 47–61.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blau, P. (1977). Heterogeneity and inequality: Towards a primitive theory of social structure. New York, NY: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • BoardSource. (2012). BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index. Retrieved from CEO Survey of Board Source Members:

  • Boulouta, I. (2013). Hidden connections: The link between board gender diversity and corporate social performance. Journal of Business Ethics, 113, 185–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradshaw, P., & Fredette, C. (2011). The inclusive nonprofit boardroom: Leveraging the transformative potential of diversity. Nonprofit Quarterly Spring, 15, 21–26.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bradshaw, P., & Fredette, C. (2012). Determinants of the range of ethnocultural diversity on nonprofit boards: A study of large Canadian Nonprofit Organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. doi:10.1177/0899764012453085.

  • Bradshaw, P., Murray, V., & Wolpin, J. (1992). Do nonprofit boards make a difference? An exploration of the relationships among board structure, process, and effectiveness. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 21(3), 227–249.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bradshaw, P., Murray, V., & Wolpin, J. (1996). Women on boards on nonprofits: What difference do they make? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 6, 241–254.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, W. A. (2002). Inclusive governance practices in nonprofit organizations and implications for practice. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 12(4), 369–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Callen, J. L., Klein, A., & Tinkelman, D. (2010). The contextual impact of nonprofit board composition and structure on organizational performance: Agency and resource dependence perspectives. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 21(1), 101–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, K., & Mínguez-Vera, A. (2008). Gender diversity in the boardroom and firm financial performance. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(3), 435–451.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carter, D. A., Simkins, B. J., & Simpson, W. G. (2003). Corporate governance, board diversity, and firm value. Financial Review, 38(1), 33–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chait, R. P., Holland, T. P., & Taylor, B. E. (1991). The effective board of trustees. New York, NY: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Churchill, J. G. (1979). A Paradigm for Developing Better Measures of Marketing Constructs. Journal of Marketing Research XVI, 64-73.

  • Cornforth, C. (2001). What makes boards effective? An examination of the relationships between board inputs, structures, processes and effectiveness in non-profit organizations. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 9(3), 217–227.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cornforth, C. (2012). Challenges and future direction for nonprofit governance research. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(6), 1117–1136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cox, T. H., Lobel, S. A., & McLeod, P. L. (1991). Effects of ethnic group cultural differences on cooperative and competitive behavior on a group task. Academy of Management Journal, 34, 827–847.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duca, D. J. (1996). Nonprofit boards: Roles, responsibilities, and performance. New York, NY: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ely, R. J., & Thomas, D. A. (2001). Cultural diversity at work: The effects of diversity perspectives on work group process and outcomes. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 229–273.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Erhardt, N. L., Werbel, J. D., & Sharder, C. B. (2003). Board of director diversity and firm financial performance. Corporate Governance, 11, 102–111.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ferreira, D. (2010). Board diversity”. In H. Baker & R. Anderson (Eds.), Corporate governance: A synthesis of theory, research, and practice (pp. 225–241). New York, NY: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Francoeur, C., Labelle, R., & Sinclair-Desgagné, B. (2008). Gender diversity in corporate governance and top management. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(1), 83–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fredette, C., & Bradshaw, P. (2010). From diversity to inclusion: A multi-method examination of diverse governing groups. In Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, Washington, DC.

  • Gitin, M. (2001). Beyond representation: Building diverse board leadership teams. New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 34, 77–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Green, J. C., & Griesinger, D. W. (1996). Board performance and organizational effectiveness in nonprofit social services organizations. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 6(4), 381–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hafsi, T., & Turgut, G. (2013). Boardroom diversity and its effect of social performance: Conceptualization and empirical evidence. Journal of Business Ethics, 112(3), 463–479.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hair, J. F, Jr, Black, W. C., Babin, B. J., & Anderson, R. E. (2010). Multivariate data analysis (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hanappi-Egger, E. (2012). Shall I stay or shall I go”? On the role of diversity management for women’s retention in SET professions. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31(2), 144–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, D. A., & Klein, K. J. (2007). What’s the difference? Diversity constructs as separation, variety and disparity in organization. Academy of Management Review, 32, 1199–1228.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, D. A., & Sin, H.-P. (2006). What is diversity and how should it be measured? In A. M. Konrad, P. Prasad, & J. K. Pringle (Eds.), Handbook of workplace diversity (pp. 191–216). London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herman, R. D., & Renz, D. O. (1998). Nonprofit organizational effectiveness: Contrasts between especially effective and less effective organizations. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 9(1), 23–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Herman, R. D., Renz, D. O., & Heimovics, R. D. (1996). Board practices and board effectiveness in local nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 7(4), 373–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Horwitz, S. K., & Horwitz, I. B. (2007). The effects of team diversity on team outcomes: A meta-analytic review of team demography. Journal of Management, 33(6), 987–1015.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, D. K., & Holland, T. P. (1998). Measuring the effectiveness of nonprofit boards. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 27(2), 159–182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, S. E., May, K. A., & Whitney, K. (1995). Understanding the dynamics of diversity in decision making teams. In R. A. Guzzo & E. Salas (Eds.), Team decision making effectiveness in organizations (pp. 204–261). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Google Scholar 

  • Janssens, M., & Zanoni, P. (2007). What makes an organization inclusive? Work context and diversity management practices favoring ethnic minorities’ inclusion’. Paper Presented at the Academy of Management conference, Philadelphia, PA.

  • Jehn, K. A., & Bezrukova, K. (2004). A field study of group diversity, workgroup context, and performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 703–729.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jehn, K. A., Northcraft, G. B., & Neale, M. A. (1999). Why differences make a difference: A field study of diversity, conflict, and performance in workgroups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(4), 741–763.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Joshi, A., & Roh, H. (2009). The role of context in work team diversity research: A meta-analytic review. Academy of Management Journal, 52(3), 599–627.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kochan, T., Bezrukova, K., Ely, R., Jackson, S., Joshi, A., Jehn, K., et al. (2003). The effects of diversity on business performance: Report of the diversity research network. Human Resource Management, 42(1), 3–21.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McGill, L., Bryan, B., & Miller, E. (2009). Benchmarking diversity: A first look at New York City foundations and nonprofits, Foundation Center.

  • Miller, K. P., Brewer, M. B., & Arbuckle, N. L. (2009). Social identity complexity: Its correlates and antecedents’. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 12(1), 79–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miller, T., & Triana, M. (2009). Demographic diversity in the boardroom: Mediators of the board diversity–firm performance relationship. Journal of Management Studies, 46(5), 755–786.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Milliken, F. J., & Martins, L. L. (1996). Searching for common threads: Understanding the multiple effects of diversity in organizational groups. Academy of Management Review, 21(2), 402–433.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mor Barak, M. E. (2000). Beyond affirmative action: Toward a model of diversity and organizational inclusion. Administration in Social Work, 23, 47–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nobbie, P. D., & Brudney, J. L. (2003). Testing the implementation, board performance, and organizational effectiveness of the policy governance model in nonprofit boards of directors. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 32(4), 571–595.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pavlou, P., Liang, H., & Xue, Y. (2007). Understanding and mitigating uncertainty in online exchange relationships: A principal-agent perspective. MIS Quarterly, 31(1), 105–136.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pelled, L. H., Ledford, G. E., & Mohrman, S. A. (1999). Demographic disparity and workplace inclusion. Journal of Management Studies, 36(7), 1013–1031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pitts, D. W. (2006). Modeling the impact of diversity management. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 26(3), 245–268.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Lee, J.-Y., & Podsakoff, N. (2003). Common method bias in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 5, 879–903.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40(3), 879–891.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roberson, Q. M. (2006). Disentangling the meanings of diversity and inclusion in organizations. Group and Organization Management, 31, 212–236.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Siciliano, J. I. (1996). The relationship of board member diversity to organizational performance. Journal of Business Ethics, 15, 1313–1320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stone, M. M., & Ostrower, F. (2007). Acting in the public interest? Another look at research on nonprofit governance. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 36, 416–438.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Treuhaft, S., Blackwell, A. G., & Pastor, M. (2011). America’s tomorrow: Equity is the superior growth model. Policy Link. Prepared with the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity.

  • Ugboro, I. O., & Obeng, K. (2009). Board activities, involvement, and public transit performance. Administration and Society, 41(2), 235–257.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Knippenberg, D., & Schippers, M. C. (2007). Work group diversity. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 515–541.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Williams, K. Y., & O’Reilly, C. A. (1998). Demography and diversity in organizations: A review of 40 years of research. Research in Organizational Behavior, 20, 77–140.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhang, J., Zhu, H., & Ding, H. (2013). Board composition and corporate social responsibility: An empirical investigation in the post Sarbanes–Oxley era. Journal of Business Ethics, 114(3), 381–392.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank BoardSource for providing us with the data from the 2012 Governance Index Survey for Chief Executives and the two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions to improve the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kathleen Buse.

Appendix: Study Measures

Appendix: Study Measures




Age diversity

Compiled using Blau (1977) Method where

BIAge = 1 − Σ(p i )2

p is the percent of each age group, and i is the number of groups. Continuous 0–1.0

1 = Under 30

2 = 30–39

3 = 40–49

4 = 50–64

5 = Over 65

Gender diversity

BIGender = 1 − [(pf)2+(pm)2]

p is the percent of each gender group, f is female and m is male. Continuous 0–0.5

1 = male

2 = female

Racial/ethnic diversity

BIRace = 1 − Σ(p i )2

p is the percent of each racial group and i is the number of groups. Continuous 0–1.0

CEO reported total number of board members and total number of each racial/ethnic group: Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Pacific/Hawaiian

Asian, American-Indian/Alaskan, and two or more races

Board diversity policies and practices

Has your organization or board done the following?

1 = Yes or 2 = No for each question

P&P = ΣAll responses

1. Incorporated diversity into the organization’s core values

2. Modified organizational policies and procedures to be more inclusive

3. Conducted diversity training for staff

4. Conducted diversity training for board members

5. Developed a detailed plan of action for the board to become inclusive

6. Evaluated and modified its recruitment efforts specifically to reach members with more diverse backgrounds

7. Actively recruited board members from diverse backgrounds

8. Discussed the values and benefits of expanding diversity of the board

Board inclusion behavior

Please rate the extent to which board members from diverse backgrounds work together and interact with one another

1 = Not at all

5 = Great extent

1. Board members initiate social interactions with members’ from diverse backgrounds

2. Board members value the contributions of diverse members to the board’s tasks

3. Diverse members participate in developing the board’s most important policies

4. Members take a personal interest in board members from diverse backgrounds

5. Diverse members make contributions to the board’s critical tasks

6. Diverse members become friends with the other members of the board

7. Diverse members are influential in the board’s routine activities

8. Diverse members share their personal ideas, feelings, and hopes with other members of the board

Internal governance practices

Grade your board’s performance in the following areas

1 = Fail

5 = Excellent

1. Understanding your organization’s mission

2. Strategic planning and thinking strategically

3. Knowledge of your organizations programs

4. Monitoring organizational performance and impact

5. Legal and ethical oversight

6. Financial oversight

7. Evaluating the chief executive

8. Providing guidance and support to the chief executive

9. Understanding the board’s roles and responsibilities

External governance practices

Grade your board’s performance in the following areas

1 = Fail

5 = Excellent

1. Fundraising

2. Community relations and outreach

3. Recruiting new board members

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Buse, K., Bernstein, R.S. & Bilimoria, D. The Influence of Board Diversity, Board Diversity Policies and Practices, and Board Inclusion Behaviors on Nonprofit Governance Practices. J Bus Ethics 133, 179–191 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Diversity
  • Diversity policies and practices
  • Inclusion behavior
  • Board effectiveness
  • Nonprofit boards